So, what is civics and why does it matter? Perhaps a quote might best summarize the critical purpose of civics education:
“Si nescis unde venias, nescis quo adeas” (English translation from Latin: If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going).
Civics is the study of citizenship in all its aspects: rights as well as responsibilities, both towards each other as in civil society, and to the governing body within the confines of our Constitution. Its thorough comprehension, however, requires a much deeper look at related subject matters that give it the proper context; these being history as well as philosophy, and its inseparable accompaniments logic and ethics – unfortunately all subject matters that are barely paid lip service in academia, if taught at all. It is all about knowing where we came from and understanding our philosophical moorings.
The intellectually feeble among us might wonder why all the extra work when they can simply read what these rights and responsibilities are. In order for anyone to gain a thorough understanding of any concept or issue, they must first make sense of what they are dealing with. That process requires taking a series of logical steps, each one clarifying the next. Just as learning algebra before learning calculus or trigonometry is essential for forming a sound foundation in math, one must know where we come from and why we are who we are in order to be truly responsible citizens. This knowledge includes the chain of historical events that led to our founding starting with advent of private property rights which gave birth to reason based political philosophy of Socratic era, which in turn spawned natural rights theory, classical republicanism as touted by Cicero et al, Age of Enlightenment, and eventually the birth of classical liberalism.
America is the only nation in history that was founded on a creed, as the great British intellectual G.K. Chesterton once said. Of course, he was referring to the following immortal passage from our Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Yet, let alone the knowledge of the chain of events mentioned earlier, poll after poll shows that unsettlingly large majorities of Americans do not even know what is meant by unalienable rights – our very essence and raison d’etre.
History is not kind to those who forget what made them great. We must strive to understand and teach others the essence of America because that comprehension is the only way Americans will realize the precious nature of our liberties, recognize tyranny in the form of progressivism, and reignite the passions of the majority to recapture the spirit of American exceptionalism. Our freedoms rest on our success in this endeavor because the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that requires knowing where we came from so that we can appreciate where we are going.